‘Pay respect to its history’: Campaign to transform Manchester’s London Road Fire Station into public building

By Paddy von Behr

London Road Fire Station is an ageing jewel in Manchester’s architectural crown and, after 27 years of inactivity, a campaign is bubbling to see the relic restored to its former glory.

Britannia Hotels bought the building in 1986 but, despite repeated insistence of plans for development, it remains out of use.

And Britannia’s inactivity has earned itself an enemy in Adam Prince – who launched a campaign to see the station used positively – and his growing army of followers.

Adam founded the project in October of last year, after passing by the disused station one too many times on his way to work.

“Because I was so sick of walking past the building, I wanted to see if I could do something,” he told MM.

“It’s not that I want to be the leader particularly of this movement – I just want to contribute as much as I can.”

The station has been a Grade II listed building since 1974 and on the ‘at risk’ register since 1998, but remains in Britannia’s ownership.

Manchester City Council attempted to prise it from the hotel chain in November 2011 with a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO), but lost the appeal.

The council is now finalising a further offer to purchase the station and work with English Heritage to restore life to the building.

A council spokesman said: “Our goal throughout has been to bring it back into use so that it makes a positive contribution to the regeneration of the Piccadilly area, rather than blighting it. 

“If Britannia is not willing or able to bring forward the scheme – which they already have planning permission for – in the shortest time, we would urge them in the best interests of Manchester to sell it to somebody who will.”

Adam agrees with the council’s view of Britannia, but his aspirations for the station’s future use are more ambitious and community friendly.

In a meeting – attended by English Heritage and CPO experts – people were invited to suggest their ideas and Adam was delighted with their creativity.

“I would like to see something like the Tate North or some interesting exhibition space,” Adam said.

“The most unusual idea that I really liked was an indoor botanical garden park, mixed in between restaurants, cafes, music venue space – just something really interesting and different for the city.

“It just should not be some basic hotel that is not really public-accessible – it doesn’t offer the community anything and it doesn’t offer Manchester anything.”

The 150-strong turnout for the meeting was a welcome sight to the campaign’s founder and his petition now has more than 2,000 signatures.

Bob Bonner is an expert on the building and wrote a book about it entitled The finest fire station in this round world.

He was invited onto the panel for the campaign’s inaugural meeting and was thrilled to see so much passion for its rejuvenation.

“I have a personal interest in the building,” he told MM. “I started my own career there, I remember it as a child as well so I‘ve got a lot of close ties with it.

“It’s at the heart of Manchester’s architectural, municipal history. It’s very, very important.”

Bob is hoping to see the building used for the benefit of the local community and believes Adam’s campaign can pick up some considerable speed.

“I would like to see something which possibly pays a bit more respect to its history than just 200 bedrooms,” he said.

“Do we need another hotel and, if we did, why have we still not got it?

“The response Adam got from his first meeting was a very good indicator – I think if the campaign takes off, the support will grow.”

Support is already building and, with substantial followings on Twitter and Facebook, the next gathering – on April 17 – could be much larger.

Robert Casey could not attend the first meeting, as he lives in the Netherlands, but he is just one of many people to offer his support via Facebook.

He said: “Having seen the fire station slowly allowed to rot over the past 27 years, it truly is disgraceful.

“It should be a jewel in Manchester’s architecture to welcome visitors to the city. I really hope that this is the beginning of a positive future for the building.”

Adam is now looking to arrange a competition across different age groups to show what can be done with the station.

And he hopes further fundraising – through merchandise, market stall events and more – will help the campaign challenge more effectively in future.

“We are going to be quite strict with what we want to set as the criteria and lobby for,” he added.

“We just want to become a body which challenges Britannia either way.”

Britannia were unavailable to comment, but previous statements suggest they still intend to convert the station into a 4* hotel.

If you are interested in signing the petition, click here.

Image and video courtesy of moveupandon via YouTube, with thanks.

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